The Iranian branch of Turkey’s National Intelligence Service (MİT) ceased to exist after several police investigations revealed how senior government officials, including then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were in close cooperation with Iranian agents over the infamous Turko case -Iranian gold smuggler and Erdogan’s treasurer, Reza Zarrab, who although accused of violating US sanctions against Iran, now lives comfortably and richly in the US.
The first investigation, released on December 17, 2013 by prosecutors, revealed how three ministers helped facilitate Zarrab’s evasion of Iranian sanctions to move funds out of Iran through Turkish state banks in exchange for multimillion-dollar bribes. The scheme, apparently approved by Erdogan himself, laundered billions in violation of Turkish and US law.
As has been said many times and as Abdullah Bozkurt writes in his latest piece for the Nordic Monitor, Turkish intelligence already knew that the confidential investigation conducted by prosecutors against government officials had labeled Zarrab as a threat to national security. The report, submitted to the government eight months before prosecutors went public with the case, warned that Zarrab’s contacts with state bank officials and cabinet ministers on the transfer of funds from Iran would put Turkey in trouble with its ally, the United States.
Ali Babacan, the then economy czar who headed the state banks, was informed of Zarrab’s illegal activities and was aware of the MIT report, but simply ignored it and did not act to stop Iran’s covert operations involving Turkish financial and banking system.
When information surfaced on 5 January 2014 showing that MİT had indeed warned the government about bribery relations between Zarrab and ministers eight months before the operation, Erdogan was furious. He ordered Hakan Fidan, a pro-Iranian Islamist whom he installed as head of the MİT in 2010, to disband the agency’s office in Iran and remove agents monitoring Iranian activities on Turkish soil.
The second investigation launched by prosecutors in 2011 into the elite network of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qudz Force in Turkey also revealed how Fidan and other government officials, including Erdogan’s two personal advisers, were secretly working with Iranian operatives . The investigation even led to the discovery of a “nail” inside MİT planted by Iranian intelligence to intercept classified information about Iran.
Both operations were hushed up by the Erdogan government, which later removed police investigators, prosecutors and judges involved in the criminal investigation of senior government officials for bribery and links to core Kunduz Forces in Turkey.
Fidan, who got the go-ahead from his boss Erdogan, began a purge of agents from the spy agency, especially the Iran office. Most were immediately reassigned, asked to stay away from field work, sent to remote locations, or assigned to low-level positions unrelated to their experience and background. They were later fired and some were even imprisoned on false charges.
According to confidential documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, 181 MİT agents faced EDE between 17 December 2013 and 15 July 2016. Of these, 81 agents were demoted to low-level positions and 84 who had come to work for the espionage service from the police and the army on temporary assignment were sent back after their missions were abruptly cancelled.
Because of the relatively strong rule of law protections built into labor law at the time, MIT was able to fire only 13 employees, many in administrative procedures such as retirement, non-renewal of contracts, or refusal to hire for entry applicants after a probationary period. The rest faced demotions, transfers and dismissals by filing lawsuits that in most cases resulted in decisions in their favor.
However, in the wake of the alleged coup attempt on July 15, 2016, when Turkey was under a state of emergency, Erdogan and his confidant Fidan simply ignored the laws on administrative and criminal procedures. Many agents were summarily dismissed without any effective recourse to correct the government’s illegal actions in the climate of emergency. In that period, Fidan succeeded in taking action against 377 agents and cleared most of them without bothering to show any evidence of wrongdoing allegedly committed by the agents. In total, 558 agents, or about 7% of the entire MİT force, were purged by the Erdogan government.
The purge targeted even non-commissioned officers who were essentially rookies, showing how Fidan, who had a personal stake in covering his tracks, was panicked and unwilling to take any chances. One of those junior intelligence officers was 34-year-old Mehmet Bariner, who worked in the Iran office before the purge. Bariner, a lawyer by profession, closed his office and joined the spy agency in July 2012 and trained for six months at the agency’s academy before being posted to the Iran office of the Middle East Division.
Immediately after the Zarrab scandal, which implicated Erdogan and his inner circle, Bariner was reassigned to a low-level position in a department that monitored international organizations based in Turkey and their employees at the same directorate. Two months later, he was sent to another department that deals with collecting open source information. This did not last long, and he found himself transferred to a remote post office in Cizre.
He submitted his resignation letter in August 2016, but the agency suspended him in November and fired him a month later before processing his resignation. That didn’t end his problems either. He was arrested on August 18, 2017 and remanded in custody. He was accused and tried for espionage as well as for participating in the Gülen movement. At the end of a mock trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to 21 years and three months in prison.
I am Derek Black, an author of World Stock Market. I have a degree in creative writing and journalism from the University of Central Florida. I have a passion for writing and informing the public. I strive to be accurate and fair in my reporting, and to provide a voice for those who may not otherwise be heard.